Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Art History


James Saslow

Committee Members

Jennifer Ball

Clare Carroll

Alison Luchs

Subject Categories

Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque Art and Architecture | Arts and Humanities | History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology


Italian Renaissance art; Neoplatonism; centaurs; animal hybridity; humanism; mythology in Renaissance art


Monsters, hybrid beasts, and animals in Renaissance art have, until recently, received little iconographic attention. This dissertation examines the unprecedented transformation of centaur imagery in Italian Renaissance art. The centaur, a mythological beast half-man and half-horse, was ascribed a savage nature from antiquity through the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance. Although negative representations of this creature were never entirely eradicated, the years 1480 to 1535 witnessed a dramatic shift in centaur iconography from savage to civilized beast. My study argues that the centaur’s transmutation resulted from the thriving humanist culture of Renaissance Italy and widespread interest in the philosophy of Neoplatonism. Utilizing a database comprising two hundred and ninety-one centaur images between 1300 and 1600, this dissertation demonstrates the flourishing of the cultured centaur type, as well as the decline in such imagery. By 1535, as the Counter-Reformation spread throughout Italy and interest in pagan ideals diminished, the image of the civilized centaur also began to fade and there was a return to the traditional bestial characteristics of the creature.